This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Thomas C. Foster. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Why are seasons so important in literature? What do the different seasons represent?
Seasons can symbolically enhance a reader’s sense of themes and characters. Over time, seasons have been used so frequently as symbols that each season now has ingrained meanings.
Keep reading to find out what each season means symbolically in literature.
The Significance of Setting
Every good story needs a setting, the time and place in which the story takes place. In literature, the setting is not only the backdrop for the story but an integral part of the story itself. The setting of a particular story informs the mood of the story, the attitude of the characters, and the presentation of the themes. In this article, the aspect of setting we will focus on is the symbolism of seasons.
Seasons in Literature
Many authors of literary works have used seasons symbolically to enhance the reader’s sense of themes and characters. Over the course of literary history, the seasons have been used so often and so consistently that each season carries ingrained meanings and associations.
- Example: In Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking,” the speaker is tired after bringing in a huge harvest. This is inherently autumnal: as we reap the rewards of our efforts, we also reflect on the energy we’ve used and the time that has passed.
- Old age
- Example: In W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” there is a lot of wintery language. There is snow, a frozen river, and all of the unpleasantness associated with the cold. Auden is being literal (Yeats died in winter), but he’s also using the winter to represent death and the old age at which Yeats passed away.
- Fresh possibilities
- Example: Henry James names his title character Daisy Miller. Daisies and other flowers are associated with spring. The reader shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this character is young, beautiful, and full of naive idealism.
- New adulthood
- Example: Shakespeare writes, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Even before he goes on to use words like “lovely” and “temperate,” the reader knows this is high praise.
As readers, our emotional responses and associations to the seasons are deeply ingrained. This means that an author can choose to play into those expectations and easily create meaning with fewer words.
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- How to get more out of the novels that you read
- Why you should focus on memory, symbols, and patterns to understand literature better
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